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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is not the first example of an infection being transmitted from animals to humans and subsequently spreading around the world. Ebola, avian flu and the bubonic plague are further examples of significant outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. Because of their importance for public health, research efforts in the zoonotic field have been a priority in Germany for years.
In 2006, three German ministries launched a joint initiative to promote research clusters and build up expertise in this discipline. Building on this foundation, a national research network was created in 2015 in order to understand and combat zoonotic diseases at all levels: From fundamental research in pathogenesis and epidemiology to therapeutic strategies in a clinical setting.
As well as this permanent research infrastructure, the federal framework features an instrument to provide fast support for response initiatives in the case of a zoonotic emergency. Due to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, this rapid response module was activated last month in the form of a call for applications for research on Covid-19 after Sars-CoV-2 outbreak.
The program also encourages researchers in Germany to take part in the WHO-coordinated effort to counter the pandemic. International collaboration is further promoted by a EUR 140 million contribution by Germany to CEPI, an international initiative dedicated to the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.
In addition to the German federal program, the scientific community is receiving support to find solutions at many different levels. The EU commission has passed several measures with a total volume of more than EUR 100 million to support Covid-19 research, especially in the area of vaccines. Included in these measures was a call for innovative solutions to combat the current pandemic.
At the federal state level, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is supporting a project by university hospitals to analyze the course of the disease and improve therapeutic decision-making. A similar study was recently launched in Saarland. The state of Lower Saxony and the Bavarian Research Foundation have mobilized additional funds for Covid-19 research projects and institutes.
Research organizations are also playing a key role in funding scientific responses to coronavirus. The German Research Foundation (DFG), for example, has issued a call for multidisciplinary research projects, and the German Heart Foundation is providing funding specifically for projects investigating the effect of Covid-19 on patients with cardiovascular conditions.